HRWF (07.03.2011) – – On 28 February 2011, the administrative court of Lille ruled against the penitentiary administration which up to now had refused to authorize chaplains to Jehovah’s Witnesses to visit detainees who has requested such a visit.

In April 2008, The interregional direction of the penitentiary services (DISP) of Lille rejected the requests of Jehovah’s Witnesses religious ministers to recognize their chaplains for the detention centres of Bapaume (Pas-de-Calais), Rouen (Seine-Maritime) and Laon (Aisne).

The penitentiary administration justified its refusal by the fact that too few Jehovah’s Witnesses were in prison and would need a chaplain.

The administrative court ruled that this argument was not sufficient to reject such a request all the more so since the chaplains would be volunteers and annulled the controversial decision.

Similar decisions were taken by other jurisdictions in France, notably by the administrative court of Paris in 2010.

In 2010, the HALDE, the High Authority of Fight Against Discrimination and for Equality had also ruled in favor of a prisoner in Rouen , considering that the penitentiary administration violated his “right to freedom of conscience and opinion.” It also asked the Minister of Justice “to allow religious practices on the basis of objective criteria and to implement them effectively in penitentiary institutions.”

There are about 150,000 Witnesses in France. Many of their local branches are recognized as “association cultuelle”, legal entity granted to religious associations.

Source: AFP Press release in French (28.02.2011)

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